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Islands of Africa: Mauritius

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A remote volcanic paradise in the Indian Ocean, the island country of Mauritius was completely uninhabited when first discovered by Arab sailors over a thousand years ago – and they moved on. Fast-forward to the 16th century, and Portuguese explorers also passed up on its wild lands; the Dutch then attempted a settlement, only to evacuate due to harsh weather conditions.

Following periods of French then British occupation in the centuries since, today’s Mauritius is independent; a nation of fusion cultures including French Creole and Indo-Mauritian, with myriad signposts of its storied history. Alongside stunning beaches, wonderful hiking trails and a sense of both wild adventure and relaxation, the Mauritius of today has a unique and confident sense of itself, with much to offer curious travellers.

As part of our ‘Islands of Africa’ series, here’s our in-a-nutshell guide to what makes Mauritius such a captivating and alluring travel destination.

Acres of wilderness

Though tourism is well-established in Mauritius, it’s easy to imagine the wilderness that met the first sailors to shore here. Mauritius is mostly volcanic, with tall peaks that protrude from the land – the first thing visible from a distance. This, alongside the swathes of mountains and lush forestland that comprise its national parks, makes Mauritius a highly rewarding spot for hiking.

The Black River Gorges National Park is one of the most wildlife-dense places on the island, with breathtaking, undulating scenery wherever you turn. The Seven Coloured Earths in the southwest of the island is a geographic phenomenon, an expanse of sand dunes that sprawl out in seven different shades. Admire a microcosm of the incredible plant life of the island by wandering the Botanical Garden of Pamplemousse, one of the best ways to spend a day here.

For the most adventurous island-goers, the north has its share of wild beauty but is somewhat tourist-heavy, so head to the south of Mauritius if untouched expanses of nature are your raison d’être.

Waterfalls and dense wilderness in Mauritius

Beach-dropping and island-hopping

Most are familiar with Mauritius as a beach paradise, and they’re not wrong – the lapping Indian Ocean is warm and turquoise, the sands a powdery white. World-class coastline isn’t a commodity here, and there’s plenty to go around, so you can easily find yourself on a stretch of idyll without many other revellers. Whether you want to lounge and read in relative solitude, swim in a calm and clear lagoon, sip a drink to live music in a seafront bar, or simply try as many water sports as possible, there is a beach in Mauritius for you.

Island-hopping in Mauritius is also a fine idea if you want your beach days to feel truly remote. Excursions to the charming Île aux Cerfs (Deer Island) are popular for a change of scene and a peaceful escape. A trip to Île aux Aigrettes is recommended to seek endangered wildlife such as pink pigeons and Aldabra giant tortoises. For a longer journey, glorious Rodrigues is the perfect place to immerse yourself in islander life and feel truly off the map.

Aerial of Île aux Cerfs, Mauritius

Eclectic culinary experiences

Much like its cultural heritage, the cuisine in Mauritius is steeped in a diverse fusion of flavours that are really exciting on the palate. Creole food plays a significant role on the national menu, with African, European, and Indian influences resulting in delectable curries, spicy seafood dishes, and irresistible street snacks.

The restaurant scene keeps getting better in Mauritius – particularly in Port Louis, the effervescent capital, where chefs both local and expat have set up shop to experiment with home-grown ingredients. The central market in Port Louis, the Bazaar, is an excellent place to pick up local snacks such as samosas or boulettes (dumplings).

Away from the capital, you can get your hands on the likes of fresh grilled seafood, fried plantain and charred corn at most beachside eateries; and eco-lodges are the best places to sample a menu made with divine, locally-sourced produce.

Market seller cuts jackfruit in Port Louis, Mauritius

Dive into another world

With warm azure waters and exceptional visibility, Mauritius is a playground for those with an affinity for a mask and fins. Diving boats glow with the prospect of exploring an underwater world; the likes of manta rays, eels, reef sharks and turtles, and tropical fish that dart and shimmer among exquisite coral landscapes.

Blue Bay Marine Park in the southeast of the island is a renowned dive site for its clarity and marine biodiversity; explorers can encounter the aforementioned as well as pufferfish, giant clams, sea urchins and starfish. Those who aren’t as adept with a scuba tank can still get a good view from the surface – the shallow lagoons at Blue Bay promise rewarding snorkelling, while swimming and dolphin-spotting from glass-bottomed boats are also a lot of fun.

Dolphins swimming in the water, Mauritius

The journey to independence

Centuries of Mauritius’ history were characterised by colonisation and slavery as ‘labourers’ from mainland Africa and South Asia were brought in to work on plantations here. When slavery was abolished in the 19th century, many of them stayed, leaving a patchwork of heritage in Mauritius with European, African, and South Asian influences.

Today’s Mauritius is a proudly independent state with much evidence of its history – in its name, ‘Mauritius’ after the Dutch prince, Maurice of Nassau; in the French colonial architecture of Port Louis; in its British-born tea gardens. In the centre of Mauritius, volcanic crater lake Ganga Talao is a sacred Hindu pilgrimage site, honoured by the island’s Indian communities due to its spiritual links with the Ganges.

Don’t miss the most symbolic historical site, Le Morne Brabant mountain; a captivating beauty spot surrounded by coral-dense lagoons, once used as a hideout for escaped slaves during the 18th and 19th centuries. The mountain is a UNESCO World Heritage Site both for its abolitionist links, and for its ecosystems being home to unique flora and fauna – including the rare trochetia boutoniana, the national flower of Mauritius.

Panorama of Le Morne Brabant mountain

Make it happen

If you’re dreaming of days in Mauritius, get in touch with our local travel experts based on the island. They can start planning a trip to Mauritius that’s perfectly customised to you.

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